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Elisa Crespo Could Become First Trans NYC Council Member

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 30, 2020

Elisa Crespo at a rally.
Elisa Crespo at a rally.  (Source:Elisa Crespo for NYC Council)

Elisa Crespo is running to become the first trans woman on the New York City Council, The New York Post reports.

Crespo, age 30, is one of many candidates in the 15th district — which represents the Bronx — seeking to succeed outgoing Councilman Ritchie Torres in the 15th council district.

Torres, who was the first openly gay elected official in the borough, will vacate the seat in January after having recently been elected to Congress. The Post reports that a special election to replace him will take place in March.

Crespo's candidacy is particularly notable. A former prostitute, Crespo was arrested in Florida in November 2012 after posting a sex/escort ad on the internet. Two undercover police officers arrived at her hotel room after inquiring about oral sex, and arrested Crespo on prostitution charges.

Instead of dodging her past, Crespo is using it to confront issues pertaining to sex workers. Crespo told the Post she is "no longer engaged in sex work." At a recent rally, she said:

"I was in a complicated struggle to make ends meet. A lack of job opportunities for trans women of color led me to sex work. Through this experience I wound up in Florida, where I was arrested and incarcerated with cisgender men. That moment transformed my life forever. It helped me begin my journey in civic engagement."

Crespo, who transitioned to female at the age of 15, said her arrest and jailing changed her life, compelling her to go back to school and earn a degree in political science from CUNY's John Jay College. Crespo interned with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and, as the Post points out, currently serves as an education aide to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Crespo is concerned about those who "weaponize transphobia" by pointing to her arrest, and older "socially conservative" constituents who might not be open to her candidacy. "It's shameful. People are upset at the momentum my campaign is getting," she told The Post. Crespo supports legislation to decriminalize prostitution. "Sex work is work," she said.

Crespo's prostitution work was to support both herself and her mother, who was in an abusive relationship. In an interview with empoweredtranswoman.com, Crespo said "It's an unfortunate fact that trans woman and sex work go hand in hand. It's not something I wanted to do. It's dangerous. We're putting ourselves in front of strangers that we don't know who can harm us.

"I feel the very weight of my community on my shoulders. It's very important for me to show people we can do this. We're not defined by our past. If we want to get into the arena, we have the right to do it — and we can do it... I'm hoping to inspire a new generation of people not only in The Bronx but across New York City."

Torres believes Crespo has a shot at succeeding him.

"The race of CD 15 has several serious candidates, and Elisa is certainly one of them... My decisive election to Congress has shown that sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer insurmountable barriers to winning elected office in the Bronx."

Catherine Hanssens, Founding Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy, is optimistic about the candidate, stating that "Ms. Crespo's lived experience and obvious talent are exactly what we need to address overcriminalization and bias that limit employment, housing and education opportunities. It is thrilling to see a candidate with the courage to challenge the criminalization of sex work."

Crespo's policy agenda is focused on aiding the working class and poor residents of the 15th district, championing an FDR-style infrastructure-jobs program to employ residents. "We should have more vocational and trade schools," Crespo said.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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